Age of Mythology
by Microsoft Game Studios
The most anticipated RTS this year, without a doubt, has to be Age of Mythology. After two highly successful games based on history, Age of Empires and Age of Empires II, the developers have decided to give us a break and instead give us a game based on mythology. If like me you like the previous game being based on history and were worried that making the game based on mythology would turn out to be one of them lukewarm fantasy based RTS games, then I'm pleased to tell you that this is not the case at all and in many ways this is the finest game that Ensemble Studios have created so far.
The first thing that strikes you when you play the game is that the developers have taken the mythology very seriously. Quite a few people were irritated with Zeus - Master of Olympus, a few years ago, because it gave the game a humorous look and attitude. Age of Mythology avoids this pitfall and gives the game the same professional look that it's two previous titles had. One thing is different though. The game is now fully 3D. The map can be turned around and zoomed in upon. Again people have been worried about the detrimental effect that this could have upon the look of the game with the 3D units and buildings not looking as sharp as the 2D ones of the previous games. Again there is no need to fear. Despite the game being in 3D, the whole thing still looks great. Even the mini-map revolves as the map revolves, so it never gets confusing. To be honest the revolving map feature has to be selected from the game options and is not enabled by default.
There are 3 ancient cultures represented within the game. The Greeks, the Egyptians and the Norse. Each of these cultures has 3 major gods and each of these gods has their own particular civilisation. Having said this though, the architecture and tech trees for the three civilisations who are Greek for example, are basically the same with only a few differences. What your choice of civilisation affects most is the choice of minor gods you can worship (more on that later), the civ bonuses you have and the god powers that are available to you. In effect there are nine different civilisations in the game but because there are similarities between the civilisations for a particular culture, it is easier to become accustomed to the civilisations than it was in AoE or AoE2.
The single player side of the game centres around the campaigns for each of the cultures (so that's 3 campaigns in all). The campaigns must be played sequentially so you'll have to play through the Greek campaign before you can play the other two. The campaigns are quite interesting and help you to learn the game. The Greek campaign in particular can be seen as an extension of the tutorial, at least for the first couple of scenarios. Of course you can always opt for a random game, there are no single scenarios included with the game. If you own AoE2 and especially if you own The Conquerors expansion pack, then you'll be unhappy with the amount of game types that there is on offer in Age of Mythology. The game types are Supremacy - where victory is obtained by conquest, the number of settlements or wonders; Conquest - victory by conquest; Lightning - the game is played at high speed and finally the old faithful Deathmatch - which sees you in a fight to the finish and you get a load of resources to begin with to make it that bit easier. The conquerors threw in some peaceful game types but where are these in AoM? The number of random game types is definitely something that needs to be addressed in next years expansion pack.
Gameplay is both familiar and in some ways, very different from AoE and AoE2. In terms of resources, stone is now gone and replaced with favour, which are the points you get for worshipping your chosen god. All cultures have their own unique ways of obtaining favour. When you advance your civilisation to the next age, you must choose a minor god to worship. Each of the minor gods will give your civilisation a bonus and a unique creature or hero, so even upgrading your civilisation has strategical consequences in AoM. You can queue a string of orders together for your units, you can issue orders while paused too and when you put these two elements together you can achieve some very powerful tactics. To set up additional town centres you have to build them on a settlement, you can no longer put them where you like. To be honest the number of subtle changes to the gameplay is substantial and I'm very impressed with the end result. The game has four difficulty levels and these allow anyone from the novice to the veteran to really enjoy themselves and play at a level that is comfortable.
The game is generally fine for deaf gamers. The tutorial is mostly subtitled but it's a shame to see that it is not fully subtitled. AoE2 had audible warnings that weren't shown in text and sadly this is the case with AoM too. However as in AoE2 you do get a highlighted area on your mini-map for the same duration of the sound. The objectives can be recalled at any time either by clicking the objectives banner or by pressing the appropriate hotkey. The unit confirmations are also not subtitled which again is annoying but a common problem amongst RTS games. All things considered there aren't any major problems or obstacles for deaf gamers.
Age of Mythology, it has to be said, is a very successful sequel to AoE2. Every element of the gameplay has been improved upon, if only in small ways, and the game just seems so much more playable. It really is hard to put my finger on why the game feels better than AoE2 but take it from me, the game is a step forward and when you consider how good a game AoE2 was that in itself is quite a compliment.
Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10 Quite possibly the RTS game of the year.
Deaf Gamers comment: Mostly accessible for deaf gamers however it is a shame the game is not fully subtitled.